Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 | 2:02 a.m.
The goal of the evening was simple: Introduce a new generation in my family to UNLV basketball.
That’s what we native Las Vegans do with our children. We bring them to the Thomas & Mack Center for a taste of one of the highlights of our youth, hoping they get a case of Runnin’ Rebel fever. It’s a rite of passage, a baptism of sorts in cheering for a basketball program that’s near and dear to our hearts.
Yet, as we were exiting the Mack on Tuesday with about three minutes remaining in UNLV’s loss to Arizona State, my 3-year-old son Nicholas cried uncontrollably — a zipper mishap courtesy of my inability to put on his jacket, not UNLV surrendering the lead after playing its best ball of the young season was to blame.
The usher, a friendly face I’ve seen for years manning his post, tried to console him, “Don’t worry, the Rebels don’t lose every game,” he said.
They surely didn’t when I was a child.
I was one of the fortunate ones growing up. My family had UNLV season tickets, and my father and I rarely missed a home game. For all the great nights of UNLV dominance — the wins against Navy and Memphis State in the 1980s, for instance — and the undefeated home records in the back-to-back seasons that ended in Final Four appearances, I was there. Section 113, Row F, Seats 7 and 8.
The Mack is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month. I can proudly say I’ve been to more than 90 percent of home games at the facility, first as a youngster with my father during those “glory years” of the 1980s and early 1990s, then as UNLV student and now as a journalist.
I remember how young men in the student section would hoist up attractive females to distract the opposition during free throw attempts and all the pageantry that made UNLV’s home-court advantage the best in all of college basketball. The pregame fireworks show and player introduction, the team running out on the carpet before the game and the scoring runs pieced together by legendary players are still fresh in my mind. The experience is something, like most in my generation, I desperately want to pass on to my child.
Still, Tuesday gave rise to my fondest memories. After all the years of my dad taking me to games, starting back in the days of the Las Vegas Convention Center, I returned the favor.
Just like my dad — a diehard Rebels supporter dating back to the 1970s, and who traveled with the team to Atlanta for the 1977 Final Four — I passed the torch to another generation. I did my duty as a UNLV grad and lifelong supporter.
When fans stormed the court at the Orleans Arena two seasons ago after UNLV beat then-No. 1 North Carolina, it wasn’t students on the floor celebrating. It was 30-somethings like me reliving their childhood, so anxious and hopeful for another memorable NCAA Tournament run.
But the glory years are long gone. They’ll never be back — they died a painful death when Jerry Tarkanian was run out of town in 1992. Just ask my dad, who never hesitates sharing his opinion on the Rebels. He’s even registered as a comment poster on the Sun’s website to voice his displeasure after they lost last week to UC Santa Barbara.
“When UNLV got rid of Tark, they got rid of me,” my dad says.
He continued purchasing season tickets for a few seasons after Tarkanian left, surely optimistic that UNLV would continue it successes. And while the teams of Lon Kruger and Dave Rice have returned to the tournament and brought some sellout crowds back to the Mack, there’s no duplicating the excitement of yesteryear.
The Mack was the place to be — those 8:05 p.m. starts on a school night, spotting notables on Gucci Row and chanting Bryan, Bryan as loud as we could with hopes Tark would put in the last man on his bench, undersized guard Bryan Emerzian. The following day on the playground, we kids always tried to hit long-range shots like Freddie Banks, dunk like Jarvis Basnight (we had 7-foot rims at William E. Ferron Elementary) or scream when grabbing a rebound like Moses Scurry.
Maybe Nicholas will have a similar passion. Maybe, when he’s old enough, he’ll want to play with the passion of Roscoe Smith, or any other current UNLV star, and have an attachment to the team similar to mine. I promise he’ll know the program’s history. And he’ll know we Las Vegans don’t like UNR.
Sure, there were more behaved toddlers at the Mack on Tuesday — my son was more interested in eating popcorn and drinking soda. But when he woke up Wednesday, he told my wife about the Rebels. He also told her about my struggles putting on that jacket.